You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”
In 2007, King County, Wash.’s environmental purchasing program generated $875,000 in savings on purchases of $41 million of environmentally preferable products. The county’s purchases of recycled-content copy paper saved the equivalent of 3,600 trees and approximately 315,000 pounds of global warming pollution, the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions of 29 passenger cars. Its purchases of EPEAT-registered green computers saved energy equivalent to the use of 100 typical U.S. households and reduced greenhouse gas emissions of an additional 72 cars.
While King County has been tracking its green purchasing successes since 1994, it no longer is the only program tracking the financial and environmental benefits of its responsible purchasing efforts. Other green purchasing programs — in states and cities such as Massachusetts; Santa Monica, Calif.; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and New York City — are measuring their green purchasing volumes, the resulting financial savings and the environmental benefits.
Tracking green purchases
Tracking has become one of the biggest challenges purchasers face when implementing responsible purchasing programs. Many of the latest green purchasing executive orders and policies, including New York state’s April 2008 executive order, require government purchasers to track their green purchases. With thousands of products available through a single contract, it can be incredibly difficult to segregate the environmentally responsible products from the more traditional products also being purchased through the same contract vehicle.
One effective way purchasers are obtaining the line-item detail on green products is by requiring suppliers to provide it. Janitorial services suppliers are being asked to report the volumes of EcoLogo- or Green Seal-certified cleaning chemical and paper products they are using. Computer suppliers are being asked to report the number of EPEAT-registered green computers. Office product suppliers such as Staples and Office Depot can provide purchasers with reports indicating the volume of recycled-content products being purchased; each will work with purchasers to develop custom reports to make tracking green purchases even easier.
NIGP also is examining ways to expand the NIGP Code to permit better tracking of green purchases.
Calculating environmental benefits
Once an organization is able to track the volume of environmentally preferable products purchased, it becomes possible to approximate the resulting environmental benefits using a variety of environmental calculators.
Some of the calculators most frequently referenced by government purchasing programs include the:
Green Computer Calculator — Formerly called the Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator, the Green Computer Calculator allows purchasers to document the environmental benefits of purchasing EPEAT-registered computer products. EPEAT is an environmental standard for computer desktops, laptops and monitors. There are nearly 1,000 products on the EPEAT Green Computer Registry.
After entering the number of EPEAT-registered products purchased and indicating whether the products are registered at the EPEAT Bronze, Silver or Gold level, the Green Computer Calculator reports a variety of metrics including:
Avoided global warming pollution (greenhouse gas emissions).
Avoided water pollution.
Avoided toxins such as cadmium, mercury and lead.
Avoided hazardous waste.
Green Cleaning Calculator — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator quantifies the benefits of adopting green cleaning products and processes. Using an online checklist, the calculator collects information on the square footage of different flooring types being cleaned, the types and amounts of cleaning products traditionally used, current cleaning practices and the adoption of greener cleaning products and practices. Based on the information, the calculator then computes decreases in cleaning product use and the resulting decrease in hazardous material purchases.
Paper Calculator — One of the first widely used environmental-benefit calculators, the Paper Calculator allows purchasers to compare the environmental impacts of different paper types. After entering the purchasing volumes and postconsumer recycled content of the papers to be purchased, the calculator reports the total amount of wood and energy required to make the paper and the resulting global warming pollution (greenhouse gas emissions), wastewater and solid waste generated. The calculator allows purchasers to compare different types of papers, and the data can be exported to an Excel spreadsheet for further analysis.
Energy Star calculators — The federal government’s Energy Star program has energy-efficiency standards for almost any product requiring an electrical outlet. For many of the products, the Energy Star program also provides an environmental calculator that computes the resulting financial and environmental savings associated with an Energy Star purchase. The calculators report payback periods to determine how many months it will take for the energy savings to pay for the additional cost of the more energy-efficient product. They also calculate the associated reductions in global warming and other air pollutants and report them in easy-to-explain metrics such as number of cars removed from the road.
Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) Cost Calculator — The U.S. Department of Energy developed a calculator that fleet managers can use to compare the financial and environmental benefits of integrating hybrid electric vehicles into their fleets. The calculator requests information on fleet parameters, including vehicle types, annual mileage, city/highway miles and resale values, and reports total financial savings and avoided global warming pollution (greenhouse gas emissions) from switching to more fuel-efficient hybrid models.
Massachusetts EnviroCalc Environmental Benefits and Cost Savings Calculator for Purchasers — The Massachusetts EnviroCalc program won the National Association of State Purchasing Officials’ prestigious Gold Cronin Innovation Award in 2005 for making it easier to calculate the environmental benefits of government purchasing. Based on information about the purchasing volumes of recycled content and Energy Star-qualified products, EnviroCalc reports the amount of materials that avoided the landfill; energy savings; and avoided global warming pollution as a result of the purchases.
Evidence from the early responsible purchasing pioneers has long suggested the significant financial and environmental benefits of green purchasing strategies. The emergence and increased use of environmental-benefit calculators is making it easier to quantify those benefits. The current calculators not only present purchasing professionals with useful data to track their green purchasing efforts, but they also make the data simple enough for the politicians and taxpayers to understand.
About the author
Scot Case has been researching and promoting responsible purchasing issues for 15 years. He is vice president of TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, which manages the EcoLogo program. Contact him via e-mail at [email protected] or in Reading, Pa., at 610-779-3770.
King County Environmental Purchasing 2007 Annual Report — http://www.metrokc.gov/procure/green
The Green Cleaning Calculator — http://www.ofee.gov/janitor/index.asp
The Paper Calculator — http://www.papercalculator.org
The Energy Star calculators (most frequently cited by government purchasing officials) — http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=bulk_purchasing.bus_purchasing
The HEV Cost Calculator — http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/hev_calculator/fleet.php
Massachusetts EnviroCalc Environmental Benefits and Cost Savings Calculator for Purchasers — http://www.mass.gov/Aosd/docs/EPP/EnviroCalc%20Main%20Page.doc